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The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster

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Husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, wife. Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life. In Sandra Pankhurst she discovered a woman capable of taking a lifetime of hostility and transphobic abuse and using it to care for some of society's most in-need people. Sandra Pankhurst founded her trauma cleaning business to help peopl Husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, wife. Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life. In Sandra Pankhurst she discovered a woman capable of taking a lifetime of hostility and transphobic abuse and using it to care for some of society's most in-need people. Sandra Pankhurst founded her trauma cleaning business to help people whose emotional scars are written on their houses. From the forgotten flat of a drug addict to the infested home of a hoarder, Sandra enters properties and lives at the same time. But few of the people she looks after know anything of the complexity of Sandra's own life. Raised in an uncaring home, Sandra's miraculous gift for warmth and humour in the face of unspeakable personal tragedy mark her out as a one-off.


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Husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, wife. Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life. In Sandra Pankhurst she discovered a woman capable of taking a lifetime of hostility and transphobic abuse and using it to care for some of society's most in-need people. Sandra Pankhurst founded her trauma cleaning business to help peopl Husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, wife. Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life. In Sandra Pankhurst she discovered a woman capable of taking a lifetime of hostility and transphobic abuse and using it to care for some of society's most in-need people. Sandra Pankhurst founded her trauma cleaning business to help people whose emotional scars are written on their houses. From the forgotten flat of a drug addict to the infested home of a hoarder, Sandra enters properties and lives at the same time. But few of the people she looks after know anything of the complexity of Sandra's own life. Raised in an uncaring home, Sandra's miraculous gift for warmth and humour in the face of unspeakable personal tragedy mark her out as a one-off.

30 review for The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster

  1. 4 out of 5

    carol.

    Recently, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death was popping up in discussion, and I had been toying with a re-read until fortuitously offered the chance to read Trauma Cleaners. What perfect serendipity. Don't you wonder, just a bit, about the secret lives of cleaners? Their tricks for getting out blood? The crazy things they encounter? Sadly, though the blurb makes it sound as if such stories are the focus, the book centers on Sandra, the owner of a trauma cleaning business. As Sandra w Recently, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death was popping up in discussion, and I had been toying with a re-read until fortuitously offered the chance to read Trauma Cleaners. What perfect serendipity. Don't you wonder, just a bit, about the secret lives of cleaners? Their tricks for getting out blood? The crazy things they encounter? Sadly, though the blurb makes it sound as if such stories are the focus, the book centers on Sandra, the owner of a trauma cleaning business. As Sandra was born a man and eventually transitioned to a woman, this still had potential for fascinating insight into the process of change, going from dysfunction to order. While I think that might have been the theme the author was hoping for, there was too little reflection to make it work. It begins with an introduction by the author, sharing some of the purpose and challenges in writing this book, but her deep affection for Sandra is clear. It's followed by a 'trauma cleaning' of Kim's home, an artist and tenant who has let trash, her pet rats and her art get out of control. The story soon transitions to Sandra's history, beginning in 1950s-60s with Sandra's parents. They adopted Sandra, born 'Peter,' when they were unable to have their own children, although speculation is that Peter may have been the product of an affair. When they had their own biological children, Peter found himself being pushed out the door--literally--to a back shed. That bank and forth between time frames structures the entire book: a section on a place Sandra is cleaning and the current resident, followed by a chapter in Sandra's life. The format for Sandra's history is strictly chronological, beginning with childhood, though the current cleaning project timeline is unclear. I've never been a fan of unreliable narrators, and Sandra is more unreliable than most. It isn't a personal criticism--with a faulty memory, I'm unreliable in my own way with details--but a storytelling one: how can you tell the story of someone who admits, “Many of the facts of Sandra’s past are either entirely forgotten, endlessly interchangeable, neurotically ordered, conflicting or loosely tethered to reality. She is open about the fact that drugs may have impacted her memory … It is also my belief that her memory loss is trauma-induced.” The solution, in my mind, would have been relentless fact-checking, research, and interviewing, but instead Krasnostein relies on a combination of often isolated incidents, a couple of interviews, and rather florid storytelling. "Though the sex work she does and the drugs she takes and her overriding need for constant company frequently mean that she is not in control of herself or her environment, she is excellent at acting otherwise to conceal any vulnerability. So she does not cry in public and, while she might comment in the same tone as one comments on traffic that she is experiencing pain or discomfort, and through, of course, she feels pain deeply, she never actually shows it or make any practical adjustments to accommodate it." Krasnostein is prone to making such sweeping statements without any supporting detail or commentary from Sandra showing she believes this. One of the troubles of this kind of storytelling--like any auto/biography, really--is that in distance, it sometimes becomes easy to judge people. That may be why I prefer autobiographies like An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, because it is easier for the subject to share their thoughts and perceptions, and thus easier to understand without judgement. In this case, the writer isn't able to get very much into Sandra's head, so much here that would be the meat of the story goes almost unaddressed. I don't think this is the writer's fault; any time such issues are brought up, it sounds as if Sandra quickly dismisses them with a "don't remember, love," kind of comment. Sandra, for instance, fathered two children. She currently has no contact with them, and we have very little insight why, although it is clear the writer also wonders. She's also politically conservative, which seems surprising given her trans background, extensive drug use and history of supporting herself through sex work. Again, not really explained. Nor is the simple fact of why she wears 'pristine white shoes' and refuses to wear gloves at her cleaning jobs. We're left with the visual portrait of a presumably complex person: this is how she makes her money, this is how she dresses, these are the things she buys, these are the people she hangs around with. It lacks the larger social context of Janet Mock's Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More (with the exception on a chapter that deals with rape), as well as her attention to detail on the transition. (As an aside, I found Sandra's general dismissal and non-discussion of the process of transitioning to be fascinatingly oblique). Ultimately, though I eagerly picked it up, it never really paid off for me. The lack of insight into either Sandra or the trauma cleaning case studies/process meant it was unsatisfying on either front. However, it was written engagingly enough that it wasn't a waste of time or utterly frustrated, just too surface to really engage me emotionally or intellectually. Kind of like watching a segment of 'Entertainment Tonight,' or 'Hoarders' instead of a thoughtful, in-depth analysis one hopes for from a book. It does make significant strides in this direction in the last hundred pages or so of the story. Two and a half stars on my 'It was okay' scale, rounding up because it was very readable.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Petra-X

    The Trauma Cleaner, Sandra, is a horrible person but the blurb says, "Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life". The author excuses the awfulness of her subject every time by harking back to her upbringing. Sandra, then a boy, had a traumatic upbringing, an adopted child who was rejected and sent to live in a shed in the garden, or a bungalow, at age 9, 11 or 13, his and others' recollections vary. It's always better to tell the truth as that way y The Trauma Cleaner, Sandra, is a horrible person but the blurb says, "Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life". The author excuses the awfulness of her subject every time by harking back to her upbringing. Sandra, then a boy, had a traumatic upbringing, an adopted child who was rejected and sent to live in a shed in the garden, or a bungalow, at age 9, 11 or 13, his and others' recollections vary. It's always better to tell the truth as that way you don't have to have a good memory, If you can't keep your story straight, you are probably lying. Eventually the traumatised child grows to be a man and marries and has two sons. When his gay side, his drag queen side, makes it impossible to remain married, he leaves, taking the car and leaving his wife with the house, the mortgage and the children. He couldn't care less about anyone but himself. He becomes Sandra and being quite beautiful (according to the author, the pics show a very masculine looking tall, slim blonde) she gets many men, including illegally marrying one. She never shows real caring for them unless it affects herself. The Trauma Cleaning business is the interesting part of the book. Sandra employs a lot of people to clean up after disasters, but mostly from hoarders and those that let their pets use their entire house as a bathroom. Sadly this most interesting part is very sketchy. This, as the blurb says, is a love letter to Sandra by the author. At the end of the book, Sandra is reunited, after 40 years, with one of her sons. She makes it clear to him and the author he isn't going to benefit for her will, she's left her money elsewhere. The final cutting blow of a man/woman who loved only themselves and didn't see anything wrong with that at all. This is a very sketchy review of a book that was quite well written but I did not enjoy. It is 3.5 stars for writing and interest but 2 for enjoyment so I rounded it down. The best review of this book is by Carol, you can read it here

  3. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    WOW.....What a story. My god.... I never read a story like this one. I knew other friends liked this book .....but it was really Esil who inspired me to read this. I almost sent my library ebook back to the library - thinking I didn’t have time to read it - or some other excuse....(I’ve started Crime and Punishment so I figured that might be enough trauma)... haha! But all I can say is WOW WOW WOW. Sarah Krasnostein did a terrific job writing this book - sentence after sentence was beautiful and WOW.....What a story. My god.... I never read a story like this one. I knew other friends liked this book .....but it was really Esil who inspired me to read this. I almost sent my library ebook back to the library - thinking I didn’t have time to read it - or some other excuse....(I’ve started Crime and Punishment so I figured that might be enough trauma)... haha! But all I can say is WOW WOW WOW. Sarah Krasnostein did a terrific job writing this book - sentence after sentence was beautiful and deeply felt - often sharing her own relationship to Sandra - but the real heroine is Sandra Pankhurst. Book or no book....yet some life stories REALLY DESERVE to be written ....and this is one of them. I didn’t even know that this was going to be the story that it was. I thought it was going to be the ins and out of cleaning crime scenes. It was that, too.....but really just a one part. It’s SANDRA WHO STAYS WITH ME.... much less about her business: The founder of Specialized Trauma Cleaning services in Melbourne, Australia. I fell in love with this extraordinary woman...flaws and all. Now about my age - in her 60’s. This is a human survival story like none other I’ve read. And her heart - compassionate heart - is bigger than life itself. My god - Sandra’s life growing up was soooo devasting sad. She was an adopted unwanted child, abused, neglected, unloved. She was kicked out of her home by age 17 - married by 18. Sandra was living her life as Peter: THE FATHER of two boys while beginning to transition.... she walked out abandoning her to children. We learn more about this, too. Enter prostitution...her drag queen days.....life of drugs, and alcohol, as if horrific abuse wasn’t enough. We get the entire story of how Sandra started her business and all that it entails- I thought about readers TRYING to imagine cleaning those homes - and thinking that 99% of us know they could never do it. Sandra cleans them with love. This quote sums up my experience of Sanda... clear it breaks her heart to see anyone suffer. She supports people emotionally - helping them let go of emotional trauma as well as their physical nightmares. Really beautiful- real - and inspiring. “Despite seeing the same shit each day for 21 years, Sandra treats each client as unique in their circumstance and equal in their dignity. I asked her once how she manages to maintain that attitude of compassion and absolute non-judgment” “I think it’s a drive for me that everyone deserves it because I deserve it as well, she explained”.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Valerity (Val)

    You'll just have to read this one for yourself to understand. It's a multi-layered tale about Sandra Pankhurst, who is nearly impossible to describe without just writing a book about her, as the author has done. She's currently running a business that cleans up crime scenes of all kinds, disasters, drug labs, hoarding situations of property and/or animals, both current and past, scenes which can be filthy, dangerous and toxic. She knows her stuff like nobody's business and has a crew she manages You'll just have to read this one for yourself to understand. It's a multi-layered tale about Sandra Pankhurst, who is nearly impossible to describe without just writing a book about her, as the author has done. She's currently running a business that cleans up crime scenes of all kinds, disasters, drug labs, hoarding situations of property and/or animals, both current and past, scenes which can be filthy, dangerous and toxic. She knows her stuff like nobody's business and has a crew she manages very efficiently. The other part of the story is Sandra herself and each of her rebirths she has gone through each time she's had to pick up and start over, what she's gone through getting to where she is in life. It's been a tough road which would have broken a lesser person yet still, Sandra perseveres despite being ill, still trying to help others. It's quite a story and worth reading. An advance copy was provided by NetGalley and the author Sarah Krasnostein for an unbiased review. St. Martin's Press April 10, 2018.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    I would give this six stars if I could.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    The Trauma Cleaner One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay and Disaster Sarah Krasnostein MY RATING ⭐️⭐️▫️▫️▫️ PUBLISHER St. Martin’s Press PUBLISHED April 10, 2018 REVIEW This story found within the pages of THE TRAUMA CLEANER One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster was unexpected. I thought the book was about cleaning up after deaths, crime scenes, and hoarders and how one woman fights the good fight to do this. I didn’t know I would be re The Trauma Cleaner One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay and Disaster Sarah Krasnostein MY RATING ⭐️⭐️▫️▫️▫️ PUBLISHER St. Martin’s Press PUBLISHED April 10, 2018 REVIEW This story found within the pages of THE TRAUMA CLEANER One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster was unexpected. I thought the book was about cleaning up after deaths, crime scenes, and hoarders and how one woman fights the good fight to do this. I didn’t know I would be reading about the horrendous childhood and difficult life of this woman who was born as a boy. I didn’t know I’d be reading about the details of her sex change operation and her rough life in the brothels. And while Sandra Pankhurst should be admired for her perseverance and her compassion in her cleaning business, the book tries to cover to much and goes to far. It is interesting that an author would even attempt a full life biography of a woman with a self-professed faulty memory, and then continue to remind the reader that this or that may not be accurate throughout the book. It casts doubt on the entire story. Author Sarah Krasnostein is very much a part of the book and the story. She followed Sandra Pankhurst to various cleaning scenes over a four year period. At the end of the first chapter Krasnostein describes this book as a love letter to Sandra. Krasnostein’s admiration and affection for Sandra is apparent through the book, with such sentiment as: “I have the rapturous experience, many times, of simply listening to her swear.” The chapters which deal with trauma cleaning are seemingly told by Krasnostein as the observer. But by placing herself in the story she gets in the way. These chapter are interesting, but are little more than a documentation of what Krasnostein sees. The chapters which reveal Sandra’s life history are told from a third person point of view and while gut-wrenching, held little interest given the expectation from the title. The transitions in point of view from chapter to chapter make the book a little difficult to read. The writing was also difficult to follow, requiring frequent rereading of pages and paragraphs to determine who was speaking or who was being discussed. There are an immense number of people and name changes referenced in the book and keeping up with everyone adds to the struggle. THE TRAUMA CLEANER was a trying read. Thanks to NetGalley for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    Most fascinating person ever! This is the number 1 most fascinating person I’ve ever come across, seriously. Her far-out life and her far-out job just slay me. For the entire book, my eyes were in startle position and my brain was in wonder warp. I could not put this biography down. It’s about a person named Sandra. I can relate to her life as much as I can relate to jumping out of an airplane. Her life has been bizarre, but that’s putting it mildly. I’m not going to elaborate (though man do I wa Most fascinating person ever! This is the number 1 most fascinating person I’ve ever come across, seriously. Her far-out life and her far-out job just slay me. For the entire book, my eyes were in startle position and my brain was in wonder warp. I could not put this biography down. It’s about a person named Sandra. I can relate to her life as much as I can relate to jumping out of an airplane. Her life has been bizarre, but that’s putting it mildly. I’m not going to elaborate (though man do I want to!) in the off-chance you’re going into the book blind. The layout of the book is creative. Chapters alternate between the story of Sandra’s life and reports of her cleaning jobs. The writer goes to the sites along with the cleanup crew so you get a first-hand report of what’s happening. The way the book is set up, showing past and present Sandra, gives you a vivid picture of her unusual life. I was interested equally in both stories, so I never got annoyed when the focus switched. Sandra’s strange past is startling and heart-breaking (you will do a lot of gasping), yet you can’t help but admire her resilience and sense of survival. She is a very complicated survivor, and her psychology is fascinating. Some of Sandra’s choices will infuriate you; she’s not always likeable. She has memory and health problems due to a lot of substance abuse and hormones, yet she is a model citizen with a great work ethic. She has lived through many traumatic events—way more than one person should have to; it’s a wonder she isn’t catatonic or dead. Instead, she holds no pity parties. Or at least none that we the reader can see—the biographer adores her and puts a positive spin on everything. Sometimes the writer’s idol worship is annoying, but mostly not. Oh, the cleanups! The thought of feces, rats, bugs, and stench of course makes me sick. But getting to sit in my calm and relatively clean surroundings and read about these faraway gross scenes worked out just fine. The descriptions of the pungent piles and the people who own them are detailed and vivid. I was right there, a fly on the wall (although I probably should stay away from the bug imagery), able to watch without smelling or tripping over shit. This is the time when you’re plenty grateful that the visits are virtual. You get to hear the hoarders’ stories, and they fascinated me. Their stinky piles reflect a unique and mystifying psychology. What were the hoarders like, pre-stink? What do they think about it all now? Do they feel good or bad when their house is clean? I have to admit that my secret paper-hoarder self got antsy. Nothing like a little shock therapy to make you clean up your act. You better believe that I tackled the growing piles of junky paper on my table; it was starting to look pretty bad. And then there’s Sandra. How can she stand it? What in the world could make her want to enter these toxic environments? That just fascinates me too. What’s in Sandra’s head as she goes off to work every day? I guess she’s all la de da, I’ll just pull out my sledgehammer and dislodge some of the stuck-on caca that engulfs every inch of this home, while holding my nose so I don’t puke. Forget about grabbing my Bon Ami; I’ll get out my rake and crowbar if you don’t mind. Her business is thriving and she prides herself in being a perfectionist. Sandra has a way of working with hoarders, handling them with respect as she rescues them from the piles engulfing them. She treats them gently and tries to lower their hugundous anxiety. I got a peek into what made some hoarders tick, and I got to see, in detail, how a team goes about cleaning up the mess—what tools they use, what health precautions they take. They all wear space outfits (except Sandra, who goes into each home sort of dressed up!). Who in the hell signs up for this job?? Surprisingly, I have a Complaint Board, which I hardly ever drag out for a 5-star read. But although you can barely see the complaints (because I wrote in very light chalk), they can’t be ignored. Complaint Board: Come on, biographer! -What’s with all the dialogue? This isn’t fiction with its fair share of dialogue, quotation marks everywhere, but this book often reads like that. Hello, this is a biography, which means there is no way you know the precise conversations people had. Having actual words coming out of actual people’s mouths is just all wrong. I think this is done for dramatic effect, but you shouldn’t be going for dramatic effect in a biography. You say that Sandra has memory problems—all the more reason to avoid quoting conversations. This complaint has an asterisk, because every time I read a conversation, I winced, knowing you weren’t writing truth. So you can imagine how much I liked this book if I am willing to overlook this! -Shame shame shame (sung to the tune of Aretha Franklin's Chain Chain Chain). Biographer, I share your interest in shame and I have been meaning to read Bene Brown’s books on the subject, but really, discussions of her ideas don’t belong in a biography. It doesn’t do the book any favors when you decide to play amateur psychologist. Luckily, you kept this discussion very short. I forgive you. -I feel bad for you, but…. At the end, you talked very briefly about your own depression. I hate to be callous, but it’s not cool to talk about your own psychology in a biography. Sorry. There. That’s over with. So let me end by saying again that I loved this book! The writing is lyrical and smart; I loved the sentences! I’m especially impressed because the author’s day job is as a lawyer. The scenes, both of Sandra’s life and her jobs, are hard to stomach, but they are so well described, you feel like you’re watching a movie. I recently talked lovingly about this book to a (non-reader) acquaintance. She couldn’t understand why anyone would want to read this book. “What’s the point?”, she asked, and I knew she meant it was too wild and weird for her and she had absolutely no interest in hanging out in gross houses with an oddball. Well, the point is, it’s a great book, well-told and riveting. Plus I just love to read about anything or anyone bizarre. Actually, I didn’t know I wanted to hang out in gross houses until I was there. Oh what a book. I won’t forget this one for a long, long time.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    This book was discombobulating. But I like to be discombobulated. I practically live for it. It’s like the author decided to press everyone’s red buttons one after another like a kid running along a street pressing everyone’s front doorbell – parental abuse and neglect! transgender! transgender rape! Drag acts! Prostitution! Life in a brothel! Serious sexual assault! male violence leading to murder! mental collapse! and piles of filth. Sandra, our heroine, runs a company which clears up after tra This book was discombobulating. But I like to be discombobulated. I practically live for it. It’s like the author decided to press everyone’s red buttons one after another like a kid running along a street pressing everyone’s front doorbell – parental abuse and neglect! transgender! transgender rape! Drag acts! Prostitution! Life in a brothel! Serious sexual assault! male violence leading to murder! mental collapse! and piles of filth. Sandra, our heroine, runs a company which clears up after traumatic incidents like murder and suicide, or hard-core hoarders with 20 cats, and 20 years of cat shit, and 20 years of rats, and 20 years of hoarding crap. This book is as crammed with piles and piles of stuff as the houses of the hoarders Sandra cleans out. The title has a double meaning. Sandra repairs houses and (to some extent, we hope) lives after trauma but at the same time the author Sarah Krasnostein is gingerly repairing Sandra’s own traumatic memories. There are two trauma cleaners here. Really it’s only a little bit about the gruesome cleaning. We get a few chapters on hoarders and how Sandra deals with their obvious distress when she and her team come to finally get rid of the mountains of rotting rubbish jammed into every corner of every room to the point where they only have a tiny patch of a mattress left to sleep on (but only in the fetal position). It’s often sick making, be warned that some of these hoarders have had broken overflowing toilets that they haven’t had fixed for years, that’s called wet squalor, as oppose to dry squalor. It is a real test for your imagination. We don’t really get any insight into why hoarders hoard, how they get in to such dire conditions without any intervention by family members or friends or neighbours, but it does seem that they have a lot in common – few or no family left, no friends left except the bottle, and they’ve never let anyone in their house for years. I was interested in all of that, it’s why I picked this up, but I found out that Sarah’s real interest is not in the cleaning or the clients but the cleaner, Sandra. This is really a sort-of biography of Sandra, who started out as Peter, got married, had two kids, then transitioned to being a (sex-working) female, then ended up running a most peculiar business. Sarah met Sandra, fell in love more than a little bit with this much-older woman, and tried hard to make sense of her life. Nobody, including Sandra, had ever tried to do that before. But : Many of the facts of Sandra’s past are either entirely forgotten, endlessly interchangeable, neurotically ordered, conflicting or loosely tethered to reality. She is open about the fact that drugs may have impacted her memory … No matter how many times we go over the first three decades of her life, the timeline of dates and place is never clear. Alas for me, I was never as fascinated by Sandra as Sarah thought I ought to be. It seemed all the time as if she could have done without Sarah’s endless attempts to reconstruct her many adventures. You can almost hear her saying “But darl, that’s all a long time ago, and who gives a rat’s ass for it, I sure don’t.” This isn’t a bad book, you know it’s heart is in the right place, but Sarah does not do herself any favours with her real florid prose. At the drop of a hat she will rhapsodise about Sandra For one heartbeat she says nothing. Just holds her head very still and looks at me through sea-blue irises under the high blonde bridges of her eyebrows. Great eyes, Sandra’s. Huge, strangely healthy-looking luminous spheres moving in their sockets like the wet blue earth on its axis. Or try this introduction to one of the hoarders called Dorothy : As the heartwood of a tree sings to you of thousands of sunlit days and rainy hours – specific symphonies of soil and the seasons of weathering and revival that will grant you the structural strength to reach for your share of the light – the rotten core of Dorothy’s house is a whispered scream that hurtles you backwards through decades of pitch darkness. Still, The Trauma Cleaner has won more awards – strangely healthy looking luminous awards – than I’ve had hot chicken tikka masalas, so what the hell do I know, right, darls? FURTHER READING/WATCHING The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp - the autobiography of a defiantly effeminate gay man with perfect recall Stuart - A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters - a biography of another extremely marginalised person pieced together with great difficulty by the author Sunshine Cleaning - a 2008 Amy Adams film that's also about trauma cleaning

  9. 4 out of 5

    Emmy Gregory

    I did not like this book. I saw it and thought: that sounds like a really interesting job! I'm up for reading about that. It was not a book about trauma cleaning. It was basically a misery memoir (I wouldn't have picked it up if I knew this) with several of the most irritating features that sometimes pop up in biographies. Let's get the issue of gender out the way first. Sandra, the subject of the book, is a trans woman, and the narrative delves into her pre-transition past. Now generally trans I did not like this book. I saw it and thought: that sounds like a really interesting job! I'm up for reading about that. It was not a book about trauma cleaning. It was basically a misery memoir (I wouldn't have picked it up if I knew this) with several of the most irritating features that sometimes pop up in biographies. Let's get the issue of gender out the way first. Sandra, the subject of the book, is a trans woman, and the narrative delves into her pre-transition past. Now generally trans people prefer to have their gender and pronouns backdated to reflect that they didn't actually change gender - they just affirmed what was always there. It is possible that Sandra was cool with her backstory being presented as firmly male (although this would be a bit unusual). Maybe the author wrote that way with her blessing. But given what a sensitive and painful issue this is for many trans people, the author needed to spell this out right at the beginning. All these stories about little boys who grow into men and then decide that they'd prefer to be women, actually, are really misleading about the trans experience - and they are what many people think is the truth of it, which actually causes a lot of harm. It's not enough to put this trope into a book and present yourself as a trans ally because you're being complimentary about a trans woman. Did I say complimentary? The author is ridiculous. She basically states, over and over, that this woman is an inspiration, beautiful, saintly, talented, strong... to the point where it becomes nauseating. If Sandra's life story is true, then she had a really difficult time when she was young, and she survived and got herself into a job she's good at. Good for her. Effusive praise at this level is patronising, and fetishising, and most of all it comes across as fake as all hell. Nobody feels as unrelentingly positive about another human being at all times. You can't think of one thing that's bad about her? Well... she has COPD and cirrhosis of the liver and is gradually dying, so failing to take basic protective measures against infection in the environment she works in (as we're informed she does) makes her a total fucking idiot. There you go. That wasn't hard. Enough about her being your "Talmud, Rosetta Stone, Higgs Boson." Can you even hear yourself? Sandra herself is very clearly an unreliable source, and we're told this a lot. Did this key event that changed everything happen when she was seven or thirteen? She doesn't know. Might have been a good idea to try to cross check the information. But let's assume that it's all true, in which case she's had a very painful and challenging life. But it's HER life. Use direct quotes. The way that this is written it is not clear how much of it is Sandra's memories and how much is speculation about how she probably felt and thought, embellished by the author. This matters. I have a pet peeve with authors who write non fiction in which they insert their own take on the thoughts and feelings of others. It's disrespectful regardless of the context, but when the subject is right there in front of them, it's downright slapdash. I should know whose words I'm reading. I have a hunch they aren't Sandra's. If Sandra is as vague about the past as we're told she is, she absolutely does not remember every thought that popped into her head on that Tuesday afternoon. It feels exploitative and icky to me. It feels like a Cis Saviour situation, like performative allyship at its most ridiculous. And moreover: this actually could have been a really good book. The obvious structure would have been to treat it a little more like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: present the information about the present and the cleaning jobs, as told from the PoV of the author. Then add in alternating sections about Sandra's life story, in Sandra's words. It would have been more respectful, more accurate, and less embarrassing to read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Esil

    I recently read Maid, which I liked but didn’t love. I found the mix of focus on the author’s life and her observations of the people she worked for as a maid somewhat incongruous. In a way, The Trauma Cleaner does the same thing, but so much better. Sandra Pankhurst runs a company that cleans homes that seem beyond the possibility of being cleaned — the homes of hoarders, people plagued by disease and addiction, and the sites of horrendous deaths. Sandra herself has survived — and gracefully so I recently read Maid, which I liked but didn’t love. I found the mix of focus on the author’s life and her observations of the people she worked for as a maid somewhat incongruous. In a way, The Trauma Cleaner does the same thing, but so much better. Sandra Pankhurst runs a company that cleans homes that seem beyond the possibility of being cleaned — the homes of hoarders, people plagued by disease and addiction, and the sites of horrendous deaths. Sandra herself has survived — and gracefully so — what seems like an impossible life. Born a boy, adopted into a horribly abusive family and changing sexes in the 1980s in Australia, her survival and spirit are quite extraordinary. The author of this biography follows Sandra for a few years, writing about her life and her work. The parts about her work also include a peak at the lives of the people who live in the houses Sandra cleans. The story is emotional, but it’s also full of sharp edges and humour. This is a powerful tribute to a woman who went to extraordinary lengths to live an ordinary life. I especially liked listening to the audio because the narrator did a fabulous job giving Sandra a voice. Thanks to GR friends Debbie and Bianca for pointing me towards this powerful book. I finished it a few days ago, but it’s still with me.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kelly (and the Book Boar)

    Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/ “What’s the difference between a private library and a book hoarder?” “Feces.” Now for the question of the day – can Kelly .gif up a non-fiction review????? This book has received mixed reviews from my friends, but after seeing Debbie's reaction I figured it was worth me rolling the dice. It totally was too and really my only complaint was this was supposed to be a BI.O.GRA.PHY. People who write books like these are only supposed Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/ “What’s the difference between a private library and a book hoarder?” “Feces.” Now for the question of the day – can Kelly .gif up a non-fiction review????? This book has received mixed reviews from my friends, but after seeing Debbie's reaction I figured it was worth me rolling the dice. It totally was too and really my only complaint was this was supposed to be a BI.O.GRA.PHY. People who write books like these are only supposed to be telling you about the person they are writing about. They aren’t supposed to show their obvious raging boner of a crush on their subject or interject their own sob story into the mix. Me no likey that bit. Now on to the part I can see being a peeve for many others. Most of the trips on the way-back machine to Sandra Pankhurst’s history can be reacted to like such . . . . Her memory fails her in many of the places where it counts the most which makes her a very unreliable narrator for the remainder. It also makes non-fiction read like fiction which is waaaaaaaaaaaaay beneficial to achieving a high score on the Kelly and Mitchell entertainment scale. Really, the only issue I have with the way Pankhurst’s history is presented is that a certain type of people (who wouldn’t ever even read this book to begin with, but certainly would have no problem bashing it) will use it to say that gender identity is a mental disorder brought on by a person’s upbringing – and that makes me barf. But fuck those people, right? The other thing I kept thinking while reading was “why didn’t James Frey do this when he wrote his “memoir”?????” Remember James Frey and his million little pieces that made Oprah all . . . . Hindsight is 20/20 for that fella! But anywho, if you aren’t a big non-fiction reader and looooooooooooooooooove shows like this . . . . (Nothing makes me clean house quicker than a Hoarders marathon, knowwhatI’msayin’???) You might find this to be a winner for you too.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    A blend of biography and memoir, The Trauma Cleaner meditates on what it means to live with the memory of great pain. The book alternates between describing the daily work of Sandra Pankhurst, a trans woman who owns a trauma cleaning business, and charting Sandra’s traumatic personal history, from her abuse as a child to her estrangement from her children after her transitioning process. Sarah Krasnostein abandons any pretense of authorial distance from her subject, and passionately sympathizes A blend of biography and memoir, The Trauma Cleaner meditates on what it means to live with the memory of great pain. The book alternates between describing the daily work of Sandra Pankhurst, a trans woman who owns a trauma cleaning business, and charting Sandra’s traumatic personal history, from her abuse as a child to her estrangement from her children after her transitioning process. Sarah Krasnostein abandons any pretense of authorial distance from her subject, and passionately sympathizes with Sandra; her prose is effusive, her characterization sentimental. She skillfully juxtaposes Sandra’s difficult life against the harrowing stories of the people whose homes she helps clean. A few things bothered me about this book, namely the author’s frequent paraphrasing of her sources as well as her use of a made-up “birth” name for Sandra while reconstructing her life pre-transition. But Krasnostein’s style is compelling, and her book paints a vivid portrait of a complex personality.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    This is an incredible portrait of a deeply complicated woman – and I adored it. Sandra Pankhurst owns a company specializing on trauma cleaning (after suicides and violent crimes but mostly for people with hoarding tendencies). Sarah Krasnostein followed her work for months and tells in alternating chapter of Sandra’s clients and her own, tumultuous life. Sandra, who was born as Peter, adopted by a deeply dysfunctional and abusive family, married young and had two children before leaving her fami This is an incredible portrait of a deeply complicated woman – and I adored it. Sandra Pankhurst owns a company specializing on trauma cleaning (after suicides and violent crimes but mostly for people with hoarding tendencies). Sarah Krasnostein followed her work for months and tells in alternating chapter of Sandra’s clients and her own, tumultuous life. Sandra, who was born as Peter, adopted by a deeply dysfunctional and abusive family, married young and had two children before leaving her family. She is a deeply complicated person and a completely unreliable narrator as she freely admits to having forgotten large parts of her life due both to her own trauma and drug abuse. Krasnostein manages to painting a wonderful portrait nonetheless. I especially admire that she let Sandra be contradictory and difficult without trying to paint a coherent picture: because Sandra’s life does not lend itself to coherence and her contradictions are fascinating. She is able to extend an utmost sympathy to her clients, while at the same time being callous in the way she talks about her ex-wife, who she left without any financial assistance and who had two raise her two sons on her own. She was part of the LGBTQIA-scene before it was legal and now supports conservative politicians. She is empathetic and lovely to people she hardly knows and has not spoken to people she was close with in the 70s in decades. My favourite parts were in the present, following Sandra and her empathy while dealing with her clients. I appreciated the way in which Krasnostein painted vivid pictures of very difficult living situations while avoiding sounding voyeuristic. The women Sandra became has my utmost respect even if she has done some horrible things to get there. Her life story is an interesting and in parts harrowing one, and it is a story that is well worth knowing. The audiobook is extremely well done and I cannot recommend it high enough. The narrator, Rachael Tidd did a wonderful job letting Sandra come alive in my ear. I think the excellent narration lifted this book to a definitely four-star read for me. Lastly, I do feel the need to point out that this book contains some seriously harrowing scenes; there is one rather lengthy and detailed rape in the middle of the book that might be triggering for some readers. You can find this review and other thoughts on book on my blog.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bianca

    The Trauma Cleaner is a one-of-a-kind pseudo-biography about Sandra Pankhurst, who's been working as a trauma cleaner for over twenty years. While it does discuss trauma cleaning, this book is much more than that - it's about Sandra's Pankhurst life, which has had more ups and downs than most of us can even imagine. Adopted as a baby boy by a couple in the '50s, she was beaten, ignored, isolated and kicked out of the house. Sandra was a son, a husband, a father, a drag queen, a sex worker, one of The Trauma Cleaner is a one-of-a-kind pseudo-biography about Sandra Pankhurst, who's been working as a trauma cleaner for over twenty years. While it does discuss trauma cleaning, this book is much more than that - it's about Sandra's Pankhurst life, which has had more ups and downs than most of us can even imagine. Adopted as a baby boy by a couple in the '50s, she was beaten, ignored, isolated and kicked out of the house. Sandra was a son, a husband, a father, a drag queen, a sex worker, one of the first people to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Australia; she had businesses fail, relationships with men; she was even married to a man for fourteen years. As you can imagine, Sandra has some stories to tell. Krasnostein has spent over three years trying to get to know Sandra, tagging along cleaning jobs, interviewing a few people, attempting to piece together the puzzle this woman is. It's fair to say that we all are unreliable narrators, especially when our own lives are concerned. Sandra Pankhurst is the ultimate unreliable narrator, especially since she'd lost years of memories, some probably repressed, but mostly due to damage to her brain caused by years of heavy doses of hormones, drugs and alcohol. While I'm not a huge consumer of biographies and memoirs, I've read my fair share. Krasnostein's debut is worthy of the success and awards it's been garnering. First of all, its central character is a very interesting person; second, it's written with a lot of consideration, trying to do justice to Sandra Pankhurst, without photoshopping the less favourable aspects of her personality. Also, Krasnostein's writing is wonderfully lyrical at times, which was totally unexpected, and a pleasant surprise, for a book in this category. Written with warmth and eloquence, The Trauma Cleaner is an extremely readable non-fiction book that is riveting, heartbreaking at times, but also life-affirming. We are all damaged and have the potential to cause damage. Some of us crack, others break, there's no way of knowing... Anyway, read this. NB: The audiobook was top notch. Here's a link with Sandra Pankhurst (I hope it's not Region locked) https://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video... Link to podcast with the author: https://www.betterreading.com.au/podc... This goes towards my Aussie Authors Challenge on www.http://bookloverbookreviews.com

  15. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

    The trauma cleaning becomes secondary to the tumultuous life of Sandra Pankhurst. I was a little confused at first what type of book I was reading, but I quickly enjoyed the parts of Sandra’s past, all the pain and suffering that led her to a life cleaning up terrible scenes after traumatic events be it by suicide, murder or due to neglect. It’s no coincidence that Sandra finds herself cleaning up after other people’s messy lives. Her life is one of those nightmare stories. Adopted out at birth, The trauma cleaning becomes secondary to the tumultuous life of Sandra Pankhurst. I was a little confused at first what type of book I was reading, but I quickly enjoyed the parts of Sandra’s past, all the pain and suffering that led her to a life cleaning up terrible scenes after traumatic events be it by suicide, murder or due to neglect. It’s no coincidence that Sandra finds herself cleaning up after other people’s messy lives. Her life is one of those nightmare stories. Adopted out at birth, then treated so poorly and completely neglected and kept separated by her adopted family. A struggle with her gender indentity complicating her already difficult relationship with her family. The type of neglect she is subjected to is just so unfathomable but also drives a certain determination. Her self preservation underlying a lot of her many difficult decisions made later in life. Our author Sarah Krasnostein digs into the unreliable sketchy memories left and tries to piece Sandra’s life together to write this overly flattering biography/memoir. Although there are major plot holes in her memory we learn that Sandra originally Peter marries a kind loving woman, fathers two children but ultimately decides that she can not longer hide her true identity. She leaves her wife and starts the process of gender reassignment, leaving behind her two children, thinking they are better off not having her in their lives. During this time, memories are blurry but we learn of her sex work, her drug phase, her horrific rape and her struggle to fit into a normal existence away from her seedy past. It’s not until she meets and marries her older husband that she feels unconditionally loved for the first time. At first I was a little dubious of the extent and the amount of praised lavished upon Sandra by the author. I couldn’t quite understand why she was painting her as an almost modern day martyr. Undoubtedly she endured a tough childhood, neglect, injustice and a brutal attack but I don’t think it should condone or excuse every bad act or decision thereafter. But what I can’t argue with is that she turns her life around in a such a positive way helping other sad, lonely depressed outliers of society and shows a level of compassion and empathy that most can’t or will never be able to demonstrate, despite all this it does not make Sandra herself the most sympathetic person to me, I struggled with many of her decisions, there’s self preservation but to then punish her innocent boys and to continue the cycle of neglect doesn’t wash with me, I understand to a degree her reasoning but some things left a bitter taste. Obviously due to her own difficult life she is naturally gifted with the downtrodden and lends them a empathetic shoulder and manages to get inside their lives and homes without judgement or scorn. It’s an interesting read and nevertheless Sandra will be a hard character to forget.

  16. 5 out of 5

    ~The Bookish Redhead~

    “What’s the difference between a private library and a book hoarder?” “Faeces.” Well, there's one thing I'm positive of after finishing this book, is that Sandra Pankhurst is one amazing and inspirational individual. I am quite in awe of her lust and vibrance for life, despite all of the hardships and sorrow that has been thrown at her. Sandra Pankhurst owns and runs a cleaning company that specialises in trauma cleaning. This could be cleaning up a home owned by a hoarder, somewhere where a vio “What’s the difference between a private library and a book hoarder?” “Faeces.” Well, there's one thing I'm positive of after finishing this book, is that Sandra Pankhurst is one amazing and inspirational individual. I am quite in awe of her lust and vibrance for life, despite all of the hardships and sorrow that has been thrown at her. Sandra Pankhurst owns and runs a cleaning company that specialises in trauma cleaning. This could be cleaning up a home owned by a hoarder, somewhere where a violent crime has taken place, or, even after the unfortunate and devastating event of a suicide. Sarah Krasnostein has been following Sandra and her work for a good length of time, and here in this book she tells us of Sandra's life, and the clients that she meets. Sandra was adopted at a young age, and was actually born a Peter. The family that adopted Sandra were terribly abusive towards her and quite frankly, seemed to make her life truly miserable. Apparently, due to drug use and the trauma Sandra suffered, her memory doesn't serve her as well as it did, and this is fairly obvious as we read. Krasnostein does a great job of trying to paint that picture, though. The scenes with Sandra and her clients are truly admirable. She has no judgement on the client, and above all else, she has a solid, professional manner, even in the darkest of situations. Reading Sandra's story was a harrowing one, and the things she has faced to get there are pretty shocking, but, I'm glad Sandra has shared her story, as I think it is so important. Thank you, Sandra Pankhurst.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ann Marie (Lit·Wit·Wine·Dine)

    You can read this and all of my reviews at Lit·Wit·Wine·Dine. I’ve been chewing on this review for days and I’m sure I won’t do this one justice. How do you put into words a story that makes your heart heavy with sorrow and full of love, joy, and compassion at the same time? I’d have a hard time formulating an answer the question “what is it about?”. I keep ending up with some sort of grammatically incorrect, run-on gibberish that goes something like this: It’s about this woman’s life, only she w You can read this and all of my reviews at Lit·Wit·Wine·Dine. I’ve been chewing on this review for days and I’m sure I won’t do this one justice. How do you put into words a story that makes your heart heavy with sorrow and full of love, joy, and compassion at the same time? I’d have a hard time formulating an answer the question “what is it about?”. I keep ending up with some sort of grammatically incorrect, run-on gibberish that goes something like this: It’s about this woman’s life, only she wasn’t born in a woman’s body, whose parent’s were horribly abusive but somehow she maintains this amazing level of dignity through all of these shitty things that happen to in her life, and not only that but she goes on to run this very successful and interesting business where she employs all of the empathy and compassion she was either born with or has acquired because of her experiences (probably both) to help other people who are at or near rock bottom when they need her services. Or she cleans up the messes their dead bodies make. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, I’ll try to make my thoughts a little more coherent. The Trauma Cleaner is a beautifully written story about Sandra Pankhurst, owner of Specialized Trauma Cleaning Services (STC) in Australia. The chapters alternate between Sandra’s personal story and those of a few of her clients. Sandra’s story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. One should be prepared to read, or in my case listen to, some very disturbing details. It’s been decades since I read A Child Called It, and while I don’t recall all of the details of that book, I recall parts of it making me feel quite similarly. I really don’t want to say much more about Sandra’s story or that of her clients. That is for the reader to discover. What I’d like to tell you about is what makes this story so special and why I grew so fond of Sandra and the author, Sarah Krasnostein. First, this book is filled with empathy and respect. Hoarders, sex workers, LGBTQIA, those with behavioral health issues, and every other marginalized or otherwise disenfranchised person or group mentioned in this book is spoken of with tenderness and respect. Second, and this is very me-specific, I really liked and identified with Sandra. She reminded me of bits and pieces of my grandmother, myself, and a few my favorite nurse/healtcare co-workers over the years. As a matter of fact, I found her to be as much, if not more, a carer than a cleaner. She really has a gift of relating to all kinds of people in the way that works for them. She uses candor, humor, and when needed, tough love. She would be an excellent nurse herself. I’m really very glad that I listened to The Trauma Cleaner I think I was even more engaged than if I’d been reading it. Rachael Tidd was an excellent narrator. I didn’t do any research on Sandra prior to completing my listen and I’m glad I didn’t. After I was through, I did some Googling and found some great articles and interviews. I’m not including links because I think it’s better to go in not knowing much beyond the blurb but wanted to mention that they are out there. ** This book contains graphic descriptions of child abuse and (adult) sexual abuse.** Don't forget to visit my Intsagram account for the change to win a $50 Amazon gift card. Open internationally as long as I can convert UDS and send you an e-gift card.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Amanda - Mrs B's Book Reviews

    *https://mrsbbookreviews.wordpress.com/ Memoirs are often penned based on popular identities such as celebrities and sports personalities. The Trauma Cleaner is an unusual but illuminating memoir of an ordinary Australian, with quite the extraordinary life. Sarah Krasnostein works to highlight the life and times of Sandra Pankhurst, a woman of many guises. She began life as a boy, grossly mistreated by his family, through to a husband, father, drag queen, entrepreneur, wife and eventually a traum *https://mrsbbookreviews.wordpress.com/ Memoirs are often penned based on popular identities such as celebrities and sports personalities. The Trauma Cleaner is an unusual but illuminating memoir of an ordinary Australian, with quite the extraordinary life. Sarah Krasnostein works to highlight the life and times of Sandra Pankhurst, a woman of many guises. She began life as a boy, grossly mistreated by his family, through to a husband, father, drag queen, entrepreneur, wife and eventually a trauma cleaner. This fascinating life tale held me captive for the entire journey. This is writer Sarah Krasnostein’s first book and it is a solid feat. Sarah worked closely with Sandra Pankhurst to ensure that all details of this memoir were presented as correctly as possible. This was no easy task, based on the fact that Pankhurst suffers from fractured memory recall, which can be attributed to her traumatic life experiences. What arises is a memoir that alternates snippets of Pankhurst’s colourful life events, with real life cases of her work as a trauma cleaner. The chapters that cover particular cases of cleaning up after both the living and the dead, where Pankhurst painstakingly provides order, as well as empathy, in the face of such chaos is admirable. Personally, I wanted more from this side of the memoir, I was enthralled by these cases! If we all took a leaf out of Sandra Pankhurst’s book, there is plenty to gain from the humility she exudes. The Trauma Cleaner is an observant memoir that I recommend with ease.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Canadian

    I happened upon this work of nonfiction/biography in the new books display at my local library. Knowing little about the book, I was unprepared for the contents. The title and cover photo seemed to suggest that I’d be reading about how the book’s subject got into her unusual line of work, how she performed it, and perhaps how she coped psychologically with it. Well, I did learn about Sandra Pankhurst’s circuitous route to trauma cleaning—how she endured her own significant trauma in childhood an I happened upon this work of nonfiction/biography in the new books display at my local library. Knowing little about the book, I was unprepared for the contents. The title and cover photo seemed to suggest that I’d be reading about how the book’s subject got into her unusual line of work, how she performed it, and perhaps how she coped psychologically with it. Well, I did learn about Sandra Pankhurst’s circuitous route to trauma cleaning—how she endured her own significant trauma in childhood and then sexual violence in her time as a brothel worker. However, the main focus of the book, what I really did not know would be its real topic, was Pankhurst’s transition from a life as “Peter Collins” — first through dress, make-up, and hormones, and then through sex-reassignment surgery—to life as a woman. Chapters shift back and forth between Sandra’s current business—in which she and her crew clean up the homes of decades-long hoarders or houses and apartments in which people have died by natural causes, drug overdose, suicide, or homicide—and the traumatic past that brought her to this place. All the sections about the past are written in the third-person present tense—an approach which I admit to being biased against and find unnatural, ostentatious, and annoying. Sarah Krasnostein admits that her subject’s memory is unreliable due to trauma, health-issues, and past alcohol and drug abuse. The story that is presented is therefore impressionistic and foggy; it also very badly overwritten in places. Striving for profundity or poetry, Krasnostein does go on at times. Clearly, she loves and admires Sandra, but the sometimes purple prose detracts from the telling rather than underscores the story’s pathos. There is considerable sordid detail about the strata of filth—the insects, waste (human and other), and mould—that must be removed from many residences. Sandra’s manner of dealing compassionately but firmly with traumatized mentally ill people (whose hoarding is only the most egregious of their symptoms) is made much of and frequently depicted in the book. I will admit that both the content and the style of THE TRAUMA CLEANER made me want to abandon it on more than one occasion. I persisted and did complete the book, but I have mixed feelings about whether the journey was worth it. On the one hand, I learned a great deal about lives very different from my own. On the other hand, the contents were consistently deeply unpleasant. I think a modest, well-written magazine or newspaper feature piece would have served the subject matter better than a full-length book. I suspect, too, that I would have been better disposed to this work if the writing had been plainer and cleaner and if the present tense had not been used. (It is unfortunate that an editor didn’t rein in Krasnostein’s writing.) Rating: 2.5

  20. 4 out of 5

    Text Publishing

    ‘[A] one-of-a-kind biography.’ Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review Summer Reading Guide ‘Absolutely stunning.’ Popsugar ‘Through countless encounters with the fetid, the neglected, and the downright tragic, Pankhurst has found meaning and peace, and [author] Krasnostein a singular subject whom she approaches with well-deserved awe.’ Booklist (starred review) ‘A transgender former prostitute cleans up the fetid houses of the psychotic, the hopeless and the murdered. Sounds like some dubious T ‘[A] one-of-a-kind biography.’ Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review Summer Reading Guide ‘Absolutely stunning.’ Popsugar ‘Through countless encounters with the fetid, the neglected, and the downright tragic, Pankhurst has found meaning and peace, and [author] Krasnostein a singular subject whom she approaches with well-deserved awe.’ Booklist (starred review) ‘A transgender former prostitute cleans up the fetid houses of the psychotic, the hopeless and the murdered. Sounds like some dubious TLC special, but it’s a fascinating bio of Sandra Pankhurst… Revelatory.’ People 'Compelling and fascinating.’ Oxygen ‘Pankhurst is an engaging, sympathetic, and fascinating person, and Krasnostein does an excellent job of balancing Pankhurst's personal story with those of her clients.’ LitHub, Crimereads ‘Intriguing...A complex protagonist makes for engaging material.’ Publishers Weekly ‘Within the pages of The Trauma Cleaner Krasnostein has given us an extraordinary gift of humanity, life, and determination while carefully guiding us through the unspeakable conditions in which people find themselves in the face of trauma. Through sublime writing, Sarah Krasnostein expertly renders an unforgettable portrait of Sandra, one of the most compelling people I have ever read. I found myself constantly walking the line between frustration and utter love for this woman and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her and the life she has lived. Krasnostein is a master storyteller of creative non-fiction and I am in awe.’ Sarah Schmidt, author of See What I Have Done ‘Sarah Krasnostein’s writing is warm and curious. And, carefully, it draws a portrait of Pankhurst you’ll remember long after you’ve finished reading—a woman who is quietly, wonderfully triumphant while standing at the middle and centre of despair.’ Pool UK ‘Sarah Krasnostein has written the story of her friend Sandra in a respectful way, detailing every reinvention Sandra made in her personal and professional endeavours. Readers will find Sandra’s story emotional, shocking and triumphant. It is the true story of a remarkable and resilient human being.’ Good Reading ‘A book that is as hard to read as it is hard to put down. A story of pain and loss and loneliness, of trauma and transformations and sassy humour. And cleaning...It is a hilarious and poignant tale of a woman who defies all labels...Krasnostein is a very fine writer. Her debut book is a compelling and honest story of human survival, and love.’ Janet Albrechtsen, Australian ‘Deeply moving…The book reads as a love letter from Krasnostein to Sandra…I treasured every word.’ Sofie Laguna, Australian Women’s Weekly ‘Written with sensitivity, insight and warmth…Krasnostein has pieced together a compelling history through careful research and interviews. The Trauma Cleaner is no ordinary trauma narrative: we see how the infliction of multiple traumas has left this fascinating woman uniquely placed to restore order among the despair of others, and it is with similar care that Krasnostein has produced this book.’ Books & Publishing ‘Amazing…I couldn’t put this book down, and I can’t wait to recommend it to everyone I know.’ Readings ‘Superbly sensitive…A truly unusual biography which is both confronting and edifying.’ Toowoomba Chronicle ‘An extraordinary life story superbly retold.’ Tim Gott, Devonport Bookshop ‘It’s a truly remarkable story.’ Joan Mackenzie, Whitcoulls ‘The most original non-fiction book of the year…Written with warmth, humour and sensitivity, The Trauma Cleaner is utterly fascinating.’ Page & Blackmore Booksellers ‘Krasnostein’s playful yet heartfelt debut is one of the most arresting works of biography you will read in a long time.’ Guardian ‘Krasnostein is an astute observer of human nature and her understated yet elegant prose is reminiscent of Helen Garner.’ Readings ‘Krasnostein has done a clean-up of her own, untangling the narrative behind Pankhurst’s own cluttered memories…She lets Pankhurst’s courage, humanity and sheer decency shine through. It’s a fascinating read.’ SA Weekend ‘Surely the most original non-fiction book of the year…Written with warmth, humour and sensitivity, The Trauma Cleaner is utterly fascinating.’ Page & Blackmore NZ ‘A wondrous portrait of an inspiring character.’ Saturday Paper ‘[Sandra] is one of the most extraordinary characters you will ever find in a work of non-fiction…The Trauma Cleaner is a disturbing and fascinating read with a heavy, beating heart at its centre…[Krasnostein] shows how a writer can empathise and engage with a subject yet still paint a realistic portrait.’ Australian ‘An anomalous, indelible treasure…Krasnostein allows Sandra’s story room to breathe and expand, to quietly but confidently stake its claim to the reader’s heart.’ Kill Your Darlings ‘[Pankurst’s] story is probably one of the most touching, thoughtful and thought-provoking you will ever read…Sarah Krasnostein tells it with moving compassion, even love.’ New Zealand Herald ‘Krasnostein creates a humane portrait of a woman has somehow found fertile ground in the mess of life. A brutal, heartbreaking and utterly moving story of survival – and a quiet kind of triumph.’ Better Reading ‘An extraordinarily impressive debut, in terms of both quality of writing and treatment of the subject matter…Krasnostein handles her material with respect, grace and compassion.’ Sydney Morning Herald ‘Sarah Krasnostein does a marvellous job of illuminating Sandra Pankhurst the person…it’s the vignettes of Pankhurst’s early life and upbringing in Melbourne, interspersed throughout the book, that make for compelling reading.’ Readings Best Non-Fiction 2017 ‘Compelling reading...This book reads like an unabashed love letter to Pankhurst with the first-time author, embedded for years in her subject’s life, effusive in her adoration.’ Courier-Mail ‘Compelling, compassionate, questioning and fascinating enough for at least four sequels—the reasons you finishing reading may not be the reasons you started. Stunning.’ Fullers Bookshop ‘A superbly written book about the re-doutbable Sandra Pankhurst and her work as a trauma cleaner…This is the startling life story of Pankhurst, a trans woman with a heart the size of Uluru, written in Krasnostein’s irresistibly warm, frank, intelligent voice as she describes sites of sadness and horror that take the reader straight to the dark heart of the human condition.’ Kerryn Goldsworthy, Best Books of 2017, Australian Book Review ‘The Trauma Cleaner pays tribute to a person who's an absolute life force even among the death and decay and squalor and stench that she works in every day and the crushing difficulties of her own past. And it's a story told more beautifully than you can possibly imagine.’ Radio National, 2017’s Best Summer Reads ‘The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein is hard to describe, but will delight anyone who reads it – it is that good…The stories of the hoarders and Sandra’s compassion when dealing with them that will have you transfixed. Promise.’ InDaily ‘Deep empathy for complex individuals…Explore[s] the best and worst of who we are.’ Graeme Simsion, Sydney Morning Herald’s Year in Reading 2017

  21. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    3.5/5 stars for this one. I went into this book thinking it would mostly be about trauma cleaning, but it was more than that. This book offered a handful or so of instances where Sandra was in fact cleaning up after or during a traumatic event. If you've ever watched Hoarders, it is much like that. The squalor Sandra is responsible for is just disgusting, plain and simple. Sarah Krasnostein told of the mess itself, but also the underlying reasons for the mess, which I found particularly interesti 3.5/5 stars for this one. I went into this book thinking it would mostly be about trauma cleaning, but it was more than that. This book offered a handful or so of instances where Sandra was in fact cleaning up after or during a traumatic event. If you've ever watched Hoarders, it is much like that. The squalor Sandra is responsible for is just disgusting, plain and simple. Sarah Krasnostein told of the mess itself, but also the underlying reasons for the mess, which I found particularly interesting. What is also offered here is the story of Sandra Pankhurst, which is the bit I was less prepared for. The events of her life seem so outlandish that it almost reads as a fiction novel. To say this woman has lived a full life would be an understatement. More than that however, is how Sandra's background reflects the degree of her work. She is a master of her craft because of, rather than in spite of, her experiences. She has an easy and natural connection with her clients and she is trusted by them. The woman knows how to do her job, and she does it well. She does it with passion and intention and it seemed to me like she really is invested in making a difference for her clients. What I feel inclined to whine about, given what I just said, is that I lacked a connection with Sandra, with any of the clients she helped, with the author and her connection with Sandra. I felt empathy, concern and sympathy for Sandra, however, I get the sense that the author wanted the reader to feel the adoration and strong connection she had with Sandra, but I couldn't seem to get there at any point throughout the book. I found myself craving more depth, and towards the very end, I found myself skimming rather than really investing my attention to the words. Over all, I think this was really well rounded, it was interesting, although not in the way I think most readers will expect, and Sandra's life story is a memorable one. This book took me for a ride... I'm just not entirely sure I loved that ride. Thank you to NetGalley, St. Martin's Press & Sarah Krasnostein for a digital ARC of this novel in exchange for my honest review. Publication set for April 10, 2018.

  22. 4 out of 5

    ♥ Sandi ❣

    4.25 stars If it weren't for needing to sleep I would have read this book straight through! Knowing that sometime this month I would read this book, I picked it up just to look it over. Decided then to read the first couple chapters, just to get a feel for the book! Whoops! Mistake! I read right through the book - when I laid it down I had 80 pages to go. Then life got in the way - and I had to finish it this morning. I can't tell you the last time I picked up a book and read it in one day - but 4.25 stars If it weren't for needing to sleep I would have read this book straight through! Knowing that sometime this month I would read this book, I picked it up just to look it over. Decided then to read the first couple chapters, just to get a feel for the book! Whoops! Mistake! I read right through the book - when I laid it down I had 80 pages to go. Then life got in the way - and I had to finish it this morning. I can't tell you the last time I picked up a book and read it in one day - but this book was worth it. I did think that I would read a bit more about the actual Trauma Cleaner process - the hoarders, the crime scenes, the accidental deaths. And there are some of those in the book. However this book is much more about the life of Sandra Pankhurst. How as a small adopted boy, he was relegated to a shed in the backyard and not allowed in the house at 4:30 pm. How as a man he married and fathered two children of his own. How as a transgender he made a living, sought help and was viciously raped. And then finally the journey to his gender reassignment, marriage, and courage to carry on alone. Sandra is an unusual person - tough and softhearted, ambitious and afraid, desperate and self assured. But through it all a person who walked to her own drummer and banged that drum right back at the naysayers.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Thoughts soon.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jaclyn Crupi

    I hope I don't need a trauma cleaner in life or in death but if I do I hope I get one like Sandra Pankhurst. This is a unique Australian memoir; one where the author subtly inserts herself into the telling of a life not her own. Sandra is and has been so many things: trans, father, step-mother, husband, drag queen, sex worker, wife, businesswoman. She has experienced horrendous violence and many traumas and she has inflicted trauma on others, namely her wife and children. It can be hard to recon I hope I don't need a trauma cleaner in life or in death but if I do I hope I get one like Sandra Pankhurst. This is a unique Australian memoir; one where the author subtly inserts herself into the telling of a life not her own. Sandra is and has been so many things: trans, father, step-mother, husband, drag queen, sex worker, wife, businesswoman. She has experienced horrendous violence and many traumas and she has inflicted trauma on others, namely her wife and children. It can be hard to reconcile but this book beautifully explores the complexity of Sandra's life as well as the lives of some of her trauma cleaning clients.

  25. 5 out of 5

    ☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~ ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣

    A lovely interview: https://narratively.com/the-secret-li... A lovely interview: https://narratively.com/the-secret-li...

  26. 4 out of 5

    Marianne

    “And though it must feel like a catacomb in that dark hour, and though every hour behind these blinds has been dark, the house is spinning with movement: mould is travelling up and down the walls, food is rotting, cans are rusting, water is dripping, insects are being born and they are living and dying, Janice’s hair is growing, her heart is beating, she is breathing. Which is to say that this, too, is life. Like the creatures that swim in the perfect blackness of the ocean floor, the ecosystem “And though it must feel like a catacomb in that dark hour, and though every hour behind these blinds has been dark, the house is spinning with movement: mould is travelling up and down the walls, food is rotting, cans are rusting, water is dripping, insects are being born and they are living and dying, Janice’s hair is growing, her heart is beating, she is breathing. Which is to say that this, too, is life. Like the creatures that swim in the perfect blackness of the ocean floor, the ecosystem here would be unrecognisable to most people but this, too, is our world.” The Trauma Cleaner is the first book by American-born author, lecturer and researcher, Sarah Krasnostein. She first met Sandra Pankhurst, founder of Specialised Trauma Cleaning Services, at a conference. Learning about her tumultuous life happens as Sarah accompanies Sandra and her STC team on cleaning jobs. As well as seeing a side of life to which most of us are not privy, it quickly becomes apparent that Sandra’s own background makes her ideal for this sort of work: “Aside from a vast amount of technical skill that needs constant updating, I ask Sandra what else the work requires. ‘Compassion,’ she replies solemnly. ‘Great compassion, great dignity and a good sense of humour ‘cause you’re gonna need it. And a really god sense of not being able to take the smell in, ‘cause they stink. Putrid.’” The situations of the clients in the jobs may also trigger memories that Sandra has lost: “Many of the facts of Sandra’s past are either entirely forgotten, endlessly interchangeable, neurotically ordered, conflicting or loosely tethered to reality. She is open about the fact that drugs may have impacted her memory … It is also my belief that her memory loss is trauma-induced.” That chaotic past includes a cruelty-filled childhood, two marriages (one as a husband, another as a wife), fathering two sons, a sex-change operation, the death of a lover, a violent rape, a career as a drag queen, prostitute, taxi-cab scheduler, funeral arranger, hardware store owner, Chamber of Commerce President and cleaner. With regards hoarders, we learn that dead bodies are preferable to live ones, because no bartering or getting agreement or manipulation is required: the mess and smell are about the same. “…she is completely alone and living in a house full of books and yellowed newspapers and cats and their shit, which for years she has been unable to clean or unwilling to acknowledge so she presses newspaper on top like a layer cake.” Discussing this case later, the author’s father asks ‘What kind of hoarder was she?’ ‘Books and cats, mainly,’ I tell the man who loves his cats and who I know is now actively considering his extensive book collection. ‘What’s the difference between a private library and a book hoarder?’ he wonders. We are both silent before chuckling and answering in unison: ‘Faeces.’ But the difference is this phone call. And others like it I could make. And how strong we are when we are loved.” A fascinating look at life as few of us know it. This unsolicited copy received from Text Publishing for an unbiased review.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lotte

    Husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, wife. Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life. In Sandra Pankhurst she discovered a woman capable of taking a lifetime of hostility and transphobic abuse and using it to care for some of society's most in-need people. 4.5/5. This is a work of non-fiction and in it, Sarah Krasnostein accompanies Sandra Pankhurst in her work as a trauma cleaner. Sandra and her team have specialized in cleaning and clearing ou Husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, wife. Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life. In Sandra Pankhurst she discovered a woman capable of taking a lifetime of hostility and transphobic abuse and using it to care for some of society's most in-need people. 4.5/5. This is a work of non-fiction and in it, Sarah Krasnostein accompanies Sandra Pankhurst in her work as a trauma cleaner. Sandra and her team have specialized in cleaning and clearing out houses that have become close to uninhabitable, often due to years of hoarding, sometimes due to a murder or suicide. I found the chapters that focused on Sandra’s work incredibly interesting even though they made me deeply uncomfortable at times. What makes this book outstanding, however, is how the author handles and slowly unravels Sandra’s biography. Her "extraordinary ordinary life" was full of hardships and it is truly astounding that Sandra has managed to endure and overcome so much. In writing about her life, Sarah Krasnostein doesn’t put Sandra on a pedestal though. Instead, she manages to portrait her as a real, complicated and very flawed human being, while fully revealing the fragmented and incomplete nature of Sandra’s narrative. The deep-seated sense of empathy that runs through this book and the non-judgmental attitude with which Sandra herself encounters the people she works for and with which Sarah tells Sandra’s story is what makes this book so amazing. It's a tough read for sure, but so worth it!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    Overladen with purple prose and a predominant rose tinted narrative; The Trauma Cleaner was a frustrating read. The author's obvious bias towards her subject derailed what was an interesting topic two-fold; trauma cleaning, and gender-transition. While tuning into Sandra's inner turmoil and hardships as she sought her identity was interesting, I didn't like Sarah Krasnostein's putting her on a mantle as a martyr - Sandra has many faults and equally as many redeeming qualities; the subjects of wh Overladen with purple prose and a predominant rose tinted narrative; The Trauma Cleaner was a frustrating read. The author's obvious bias towards her subject derailed what was an interesting topic two-fold; trauma cleaning, and gender-transition. While tuning into Sandra's inner turmoil and hardships as she sought her identity was interesting, I didn't like Sarah Krasnostein's putting her on a mantle as a martyr - Sandra has many faults and equally as many redeeming qualities; the subjects of which are varied yet not given equal measure throughout the novel. My rating: 3/5, I didn't get that in-depth look at trauma cleaning I was hoping for, with the author preferring to go on a tangent, praising Sandra's resilience and supplementing detail for sketchy recollections and uninteresting aside-stories. It wasn't all bad but it wasn't the book I was hoping for.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Michael Livingston

    A brilliant portrait of an amazing person. Krasnostein stumbled across Sandra Pankhurst, a professional trauma cleaner with an incredible life story and has crafted a thoughtful, moving and sometimes hilarious biography. Chapters alternate between Sandra's life story and snippets of her current life (and the lives of the people that she's cleaning up after). It's a smart structure and Krasnostein is a sympathetic and sensitive biographer - this is a wonderful and original book that will hopefull A brilliant portrait of an amazing person. Krasnostein stumbled across Sandra Pankhurst, a professional trauma cleaner with an incredible life story and has crafted a thoughtful, moving and sometimes hilarious biography. Chapters alternate between Sandra's life story and snippets of her current life (and the lives of the people that she's cleaning up after). It's a smart structure and Krasnostein is a sympathetic and sensitive biographer - this is a wonderful and original book that will hopefully be a big success.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Collin

    In 1954 Robert was a clerical worker. He would spend his days working at The Royal Australian Air Force base in Braybrook. Then he would spend his evenings at the Plough Hotel getting drunk, returning home, and beating his wife and adopted son. Peter was adopted when his parents were told they could not have any more biological children. However, Ailsa, the mother, does indeed fall pregnant and in the next three years has two sons. Peter, still receiving his regular beatings is moved into a shed In 1954 Robert was a clerical worker. He would spend his days working at The Royal Australian Air Force base in Braybrook. Then he would spend his evenings at the Plough Hotel getting drunk, returning home, and beating his wife and adopted son. Peter was adopted when his parents were told they could not have any more biological children. However, Ailsa, the mother, does indeed fall pregnant and in the next three years has two sons. Peter, still receiving his regular beatings is moved into a shed in the yard and is forbidden to enter the main house after 4.30pm. All this while still receiving his regular beatings, now while sometimes being tied to the clothesline. Not exactly an ideal childhood. But it’s not all doom and gloom. On Sunday nights, when his Grandparents come for dinner, he is allowed dinner in the house, at the table with them, his one meal for the week. When the family take a trip to Tasmania, Peter is excluded and told to paint the house while they are gone. He toils away, trying to do the best job possible, we find out later in the book that this perfection is a character trait, and receives a pair of plastic handcuffs in the shape of Tasmania as a present when the family returns. At this point you are probably thinking how can an author write such a tragic childhood for this character? Well, this is a true story. It’s nonfiction. Peter grows up marries and has two sons of his own, but something is not right. He realises that he has been born a woman trapped in a man’s body. This is Sandra’s, the name she gives herself, story and it as interesting as it can get. Sandra’s life could easily be a work of fiction. After having the gender changing operation she has been a drag queen, sex worker, business woman, hardware store owner, and this is all before she finds her true vocation as a Trauma Cleaner. Before reading this book, it had never occurred to me how, or who, cleans up the murder, suicide, and trauma scenes. Not only these, but the houses of hoarders, which make up most of the scenes that we are taken through during the narrative. Sandra starts up a company that specializes in the industrial level of cleaning required for these jobs. However, the book is not really about this job, it is more about the characters Sandra meets, and the relationships between these clients that she makes, and how she cares for them. In fact, most of these characters are so interesting, I think that Krasnostein could have maybe lengthened the book and given us some more time with them. Sandra is an amazing, empathic character, who cares deeply about her clients, going above and beyond the mandate of the job. She will often keep items such as fridges and couches and give them to another client free of charge to help them out. The structure of the narrative works beautifully as well. One chapter will cover Sandra’s story, and then the next chapter, with the name of the Client, will tell the client’s story and the process of cleaning that current job. It works to great effect, with the reader slowly learning more of Sandra’s life and history in between the jobs. I think living in the same area most of this book takes place made this an even more enjoyable read, but it did not bias my ranking. Sarah Krasnostein is a talented author and it is superbly written. 4 Stars.

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